13 Aug 2021
Qunxi Wang, Joy Sung Kim, Jianshe Zhou, Anne Ruttencutter
“Brave women always pay a high price”. New York-based writer/director Xiwen Miao tells the story of one such woman in the beautifully understated, yet quietly moving, Farewell Symphony.
The film tells the story of Yang Yang (Qunxi Wang), an aspiring young cellist from China who receives the offer of a lifetime to play with a prestigious orchestra in Chicago. Unfortunately, she becomes shunned by her conservative family; only her beloved grandfather (Jianshe Zhou) shows support and affection for Yang Yang. Many years later, Yang Yang is an accomplished cellist preparing to embark on a new series of concerts away from home. However, the ill-health of her partner (Anne Ruttencutter) forces the older Yang Yang (Joy Sung Kim) to face a difficult decision once again.
Farewell Symphony is free from flashy gimmicks and trickery. Instead, we have a simple, yet profound story brought sensitively to the screen by cast and crew. In less capable hands, some of the scenes could have veered into melodrama but they never do. Miao knows exactly the story she is telling and how it should be told. There is a touching scene between the young Yang and her grandfather, the only family figure she seemingly has any connection with. They part without words, without goodbyes, both quietly knowing it’s probably going to be the last time that they will see each other. Decades later, in closing the film, Miao has the conflicted Yang Yang clutching the keepsake of her grandfather as she gazes out to somewhere, far away, very long ago. It’s a delicately haunting moment and a perfect end to the film, stopping short of an easy resolution.
The ensemble cast are fine in their roles; each seems perfect for the part they play and, together, they lend an authentic core to the story. Miao cuts back and forth between Yang Yang’s timeline but it’s never distracting or confusing; the strength and skill of the storytelling keeps the film flowing effortlessly whilst Joy Sung Kim brings a warmth integrity to the older Yang Yang. We sense that here’s a character who has been dealt many blows, and perhaps has more to come. But she’s far from giving up and, through it all, has kept hold of who she is and the values she holds dear.
With two successful shorts already behind her, and another in post-production, Xiwen Miao’s exquisitely shot Farewell Symphony marks another step in the emergence of an exciting talent.